The New Jersey State Fair has been around for more than 75 years, but it never grows old. Although its main purpose is to promote and display agriculture from across the state, it’s forever reinvented with fresh ideas and new ways to attract visitors.
“It’s always evolving,” says Gary Larson, manager of the New Jersey State Fair. “It’s never stagnant in what it has to offer. There’s always something new going on as well as keeping the tradition of our real base here, which is agriculture.”
Held every August since 1940, the New Jersey State Fair/Sussex County Farm and Horse Show moved to its current location at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta in 1976. On site are six livestock barns, a 5,000-square-foot mahogany and glass conservatory, a greenhouse, and the 10,000-square-foot Walter Richards building.
“The State Fair went from having one permanent building in 1976 to 16 today,” Larson says. “From a facility standpoint, it has grown tremendously. It hosts a variety of activities, both agricultural and entertainment-based gatherings. It is also a venue for numerous events for nonprofit organizations.”
The 165-acre Fairgrounds hosts many events throughout the year. Visitors experience anything from horse shows, such as the popular Garden State Horse Show, to arts and crafts shows, from festivals to a variety of athletic events. The grounds even hosted the first Zombie Apocalypse Asylum in late May 2016.
But its showstopper is the State Fair, which attracts 150,000 fair- goers each year. The 10-day event offers a midway full of fun rides and tasty carnival food, entertainment, educational farming exhibits, samples from a farmers market and, of course, 4-H livestock exhibits. There are also equestrian shows, including the 80th anniversary of the Horse Show in 2016.
In addition to the State Fair, New Jersey has 20 county fairs that are agriculture-related. They are typically held from July into September, and all are in the business of promoting the state’s agriculture industry.
As the agricultural fair coordinator with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Lynn Mathews can see firsthand how enthusiastic fair organizers are about farmers and ranchers.
“The fair’s people are the most passionate people about agriculture you will ever find,” she says. “They keep finding new ways to showcase agriculture.”